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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Biden administration cancels Twin Metals mineral leases

Decision a potentially fatal blow to proposed copper-nickel mine near the BWCAW

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REGIONAL— The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it had canceled two Twin Metals mineral leases that were illegally reinstated by the Trump administration. The decision is a potentially fatal blow to the efforts of Antofagasta, the Chilean mining giant which controls Twin Metals, to develop a copper-nickel mine near Birch Lake, southeast of Ely.
The company has spent more than a decade prospecting for deposits along the South Kawishiwi River, just upstream of the 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The company had submitted a mine plan for environmental review more than a year ago, which proposed an underground mine not far from the Ely airport. But the company had never publicly issued financial projections, which raised doubts about the project’s viability.
The cancellation of the mineral leases was not a surprise, in part because previous administrations, of both parties, had determined that holders of the leases had no automatic right to renewal. Originally issued to the International Nickel Company (INCO) in 1966, the leases had gone through a number of changes in ownership, most recently coming under the control of Twin Metals. The leases had been renewed twice before for ten-year terms, in the 1980s and again in 2004. The original lease language allowed for up to three renewals, but only if INCO or its successor had begun actual mining within the lease’s initial 20-year term, a requirement that INCO never met. Several past administrations, including under Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, had concluded that INCO’s successors had no absolute right to renewal in legal opinions issued by attorneys with the Department of Interior.
President Obama canceled the Twin Metals leases in the weeks before leaving office, but the Trump administration issued a controversial legal analysis that claimed the company had an absolute right to a third renewal and reissued the leases. Attorneys for the Biden administration determined that the Trump decision was legally flawed and that the leases were renewed unlawfully. The Trump administration’s action also appeared to violate the statutory right of the U.S. Forest Service to consent or withhold consent for mining operations within the Superior National Forest. Forest Service officials had stated in 2016 that the Twin Metals mine proposal posed an unacceptable risk to water quality within the Boundary Waters, a determination that prompted the agency to exercise its veto authority over the proposal.
The Trump administration decision had been faced with legal challenges on several fronts, but those cases are now expected to be withdrawn as moot.
Activists who have opposed the proposed mine hailed the latest decision. “This is a major win for Boundary Waters protection,” said Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “This action by the Biden administration re-establishes the long-standing legal consensus of five presidential administrations and marks a return of the rule of law. It is heartening to have an administration making decisions with integrity. Twin Metals leases should never have been reinstated in the first place, and this announcement should stop the Twin Metals mine threat.”
But Twin Metals expressed disappointment and indicated it plans to challenge the decision. “We expect to prevail,” stated the company in a statement. “This is not about law. This is a political action intended to stop the Twin Metals project without conducting the environmental review prescribed in law,” said company spokesperson Kathy Graul. “We are confident that a full environmental review will show that the science behind this modern mine will prove that we can advance this project safely under the highest of standard.”
Politicians, both past and present, also weighed in on the decision. Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber blasted the administration’s action, claiming it would have “devastating impacts on northern Minnesota and our nation” and said it was a decision by the administration to ban mining.
“He’s choosing foreign sourced minerals, including mines that use child slave labor, over our own domestic, union workforce that follows the best labor and environmental standards in the world,” Stauber said.
Meanwhile, former Gov. Mark Dayton hailed the decision and called for permanent protection of the Boundary Waters from threats posed by sulfide-based mining. “We inherited this pristine wilderness from previous generations of Minnesotans, who bequeathed it to us to benefit not only ourselves, but also our children, our grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren. Now it is our responsibility to protect this fragile ecosystem from those who would exploit it for their own selfish purposes.”
Minnesota’s Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum agreed, calling the decision a “monumental victory for the Boundary Waters” and “a rejection of the deeply flawed and politically motivated process under the Trump administration.”

Withdrawal process
The cancellation of the leases comes at the same time that the administration is studying a Forest Service request for a 20-year mineral withdrawal that would prohibit new mineral leasing on about 225,000 acres of the Superior National Forest, including the area where the two former Twin Metals leases were located. A decision on that issue is expected once a two-year study on the proposal is completed. That study got underway in October 2021 and concluded its public comment period earlier this month.

Comments

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  • snowshoe2

    Awesome news, being very familiar with the water in like Kawishiwi river or White iron, they are very infertile and water pH is around 6 or lower. The water has almost no buffer ability. A little change like down to 5 or close to that it has been shown various aquatic life will die and like yellow perch, eggs will not survive.

    Polymet may be different than the Twin Mine one. I know MN DNR did studies as far back as 1975 on that Kawishiwi watershed because of grave concern of what mining would do at this specific area, Not good.

    Twin Mines environmental assessments kept changing and many of the plans also for how they were going to mine. They have a very poor track record worldwide.

    Wednesday, January 26 Report this

  • brianlafrenier

    Pete Stauber stated today that the plans to move forward for Twin Metals will continue to save jobs for the area. He also said the Science and the truth should be known and not fear tactics. He forgets here. He doesn't believe in the Science when it comes to COVID and he forgets the fear tactics he used against Quinn Nystrom when he was running for re election. He said Quinn and the Left want to take your cars, guns, and cows away. He voted against the Infrastructure bill but lately he's been telling people what great things will happen in the North because of the passage of the Bill. Pete Stauber talks out of both sides of his mouth and he's not to be trusted at all. He doesn't care about science or fact.

    Wednesday, January 26 Report this

  • tremelo

    The argument that this mine and will increase abusive child labor and environmental damage in other countries defies the basic laws of economics. This mine will increase the world supply of the mined minerals. Increased supply lowers price (supply up - price down and vice versa). In the face of decreased prices, the foreign miners will have to cut costs to maintain profit levels. The easiest costs to cut are labor and environmental. So the (abusive) demands on labor (child or adult) will increase to get more labor for the same cost and environmental safeguards will be cut to save costs. Pete Stauber should know this - so he is either lying (repeating sound bites) or so ignorant of the basic laws of economics that he should be disqualified from office.

    Thursday, January 27 Report this

  • brianlafrenier

    Pete Stauber is just interested in votes. He is just a mouthpiece for the GOP. If you listen to him, he imitates the rhetoric of other Republican Politicians including Donald Trump. He'll keep getting re elected because he like other Politicians play into the fears of voters. During his last campaign he didn't get the Steelworker endor*****t like he thought he would. That's because he voted against a bill that had to do with the right to organize. He did however get the endor*****t of the Carpenters Union. It boggles the mind that the Union would endorse him. Stauber was a President of his Union when he was a Police Officer. Like I said. He talks out of both sides of his mouth and he's not to be trusted.

    Thursday, January 27 Report this

  • snowshoe2

    Pete Stauber has changed. Give us the old Stauber or move on.

    Sunday, January 30 Report this

  • brianlafrenier

    I've only known Stauber the way he is now. I don't know the old Stauber lie you say snowshoe2. As the saying goes "a leopard never changes his spots"

    Sunday, January 30 Report this